My Belgian birthday! Part two

We arrived at Holiday Home Bonjour Clara at about 7:00pm, having originally overshot the driveway and ended up at the dairy farm next door.  Marianne, the proprietor of the vacation home, was waiting for us.  While I walked and watered Zane and Arran, Marianne showed Bill around the humongous house.  She told him it was built in 1670.  Looking around the impressive brick house, I totally believe it’s that old.

Marianne was very surprised there were only two of us and dogs.  She said she usually rents her house out to large groups.  Holiday Home Bonjour Clara has sleeping space for at least ten people.  There are three rooms that could be considered master bedrooms, along with two “cubby” type rooms.  One has a full sized bed and the other tiny nook has bunk beds.  There are also two sofas downstairs, a crib, and plenty of floor space for cots and/or sleeping bags.

Holiday Home Bonjour Clara has two bathrooms, one on each floor.  One has a shower and the other has a large bathtub.  There’s also a water closet.  Should the need arise, you can even do laundry in the house.  Marianne has thoughtfully included a washing machine, which we did end up having to use.

The kitchen is enormous!


The kitchen in this house is huge and inviting.  There’s a large table with seating for several people.  In the dining room, there’s another large table, as well as several tables outside.  The kitchen has a stove, oven, microwave, dishwasher, and fridge, as well as plenty of other appliances you might want or need.

Huge table for a group.  In the next room are a couch and a loveseat, as well as a flatscreen TV with plenty of channels in English.  I love that Belgian TV has programming in English with French or Flemish subtitles.

Living room.  Wood stove for the winter.  There’s also another fireplace in the dining room.

The upstairs bathroom has a shower.  Arran is checking it out.  Marianne supplies plenty of towels, so there’s no need to worry about bringing linens.

The downstairs bathroom.  A water closet is next to it.  This is also where the washing machine is.


The cool looking sink in the WC.  Marianne has decorated this house with a lot of art.  I don’t know if she’s an artist herself, but I would not be surprised if she was.


The foyer.  Steep stairs lead to the upper level.  The downstairs bedroom also has a small set of steps to climb.  Those with mobility issues may have problems in this house because getting into all of the rooms involve climbing steps.


A couple of the bedrooms.  We stayed in the one pictured with Zane on the bed.  Every morning, we awoke to birds chirping, owls hooting, and the smell of beer.  I’m pretty sure the local breweries were supplying their spent barley to farmers for feeding their cows.  There is a dairy farm next door.

This house is equipped with WiFi.  The signal went in and out, which was a little annoying.  However, I was surprised it worked as well as it did, since the building is very old.  It’s been my experience that Internet in older buildings can be a bit dodgy.

After we toured the house, Marianne showed us the coolest (literally) feature her holiday home offers.  She has a “swimming pond!”

Bill checks out the “pond”.  It was refreshingly cold!

This pond is also home to two fish.  They aren’t koi, but they are similar to koi.  Marianne couldn’t remember what they were called in English.  She says they are smarter than koi because they somehow avoid being snatched by birds of prey!  The fish aren’t bothered by human guests.  I did take a short dip just to say I did.  Unfortunately, I was visited by my unpopular “Aunt Flow” over the weekend.  She always shows up at the worst possible times.

A bench near a very pleasant sitting area.

Large yard for the dogs.  This was not completely fenced in, so we couldn’t let them off lead.  Marianne has a dog, but he stayed near the house.  He seemed very friendly.

Next to the house is a canal, where a family of birds was living.  They looked a little like ducks.

I thought they were ducks at first, but upon closer examination, they looked more like small pheasants.

A morning shot of the pond.


Lily pads.


The pond has a rope that facilitates getting in and out.  Otherwise, you have to be pretty careful getting in and out.  I noticed Marianne’s college aged son seemed to take a leap into the water.  In any case, this isn’t your typical American pool with lots of safeguards.  Use at your own risk and be careful!  We thought it was a pretty nice feature, though.

After our dip in the pond, we sat by the canal and drank beer.

This was the view.


Besides birds, Holiday Home Bonjour Clara has a wild bunny who visits in the mornings and evenings.

And two chickens who were almost tame!  They let me get within a foot of them.  And every morning and evening, they peeked into the house.

On our first night, we arrived too late to get to a grocery store.  Marianne very kindly brought us eight eggs from her chickens, some ham, butter, and bread.  The eggs were especially delicious!

Breakfast for dinner!


Since we didn’t have any cream for my coffee, Bill went to the farm next door and purchased a liter of milk.  This very fresh milk cost 50 cents.  The farm also has potatoes, but Marianne said they’d been experiencing a drought and the potatoes are very difficult to unearth right now.

All in all, this house was a delight for four nights.  If you’re looking for a home that can accommodate a group and is pet friendly, I would recommend Holiday Home Bonjour Clara.  Besides being in a delightful rural area, it’s close to Ghent, Bruges, and the beach.


My Belgian birthday! Part one

Yesterday was my birthday.  I turned 45.  I am definitely not living the life I thought I would live at this age, but I can’t complain.  Bill and I learned our lesson the last time we were in Germany.  You have to take all the opportunities you can to see Europe.  Last year, we stayed in town for my birthday and visited one of our favorite local restaurants, Osteria da Gino (Nagold).  This year, Bill decided to take a few days of leave so we could go somewhere.

Although I have enjoyed most of the countries I’ve visited so far, Belgium remains one of my favorite places.  I love the frites, chocolate, and beer.  Also, any country that has a statue of a little boy peeing wins points with me.  Belgium evidently has a number of such monuments, but the most famous one is, of course, Mannekin Pis, which is in Brussels.  Bill and I visited Brussels in 2008.  I would actually love to go back there for the beer scene alone, but we were going to be bringing our dogs, Zane and Arran.  When the boys are with us, it’s better to be out in the country.

Off I went to Booking.com to find a rental house.  To be honest, although we ended up in Belgium, I also considered places in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.  I finally settled on Holiday Home Bonjour Clara, located in Alveringem, Belgium.  I picked this house because it offered everything we needed and was in an attractive location near Bruges, Ghent, and the beach.  It had free WiFi, free parking, and was pet friendly.  Somehow, I failed to notice that it also sleeps at least 10 people!  The house is HUGE.  Moreover, besides being very large, it boasts a “swimming pond”, which I also thought was pretty cool.  More on that later.

Anyway, for four nights, we paid 760 euros in cash.  We were actually supposed to do a bank transfer, but the hostess never sent the information to me.  I guess that makes sense, since we booked it just a few days before our arrival.  We usually spend less on our vacation rentals, but again, for some reason I didn’t realize just how huge the house was.  For as many people as it can accommodate, it was definitely priced fairly.  I will review the house in the next post.

On Friday morning, we loaded up the RAV4.  I was feeling a little out of sorts because I ordered coffee from the States again and it hadn’t yet arrived.  Just my luck, the post did try to deliver it on Friday… or so that’s what the mail tracker says.  We have to pay a duty for the coffee, so I was wanting to hang around long enough to take care of that.  Bill, being ever practical and wary of long drives, noted just how far Alveringem is from the Stuttgart area and nixed my idea of waiting for the mail.  It’s a good thing he did that, since it took all day to get to where we were going.  I had initially told our host, Marianne, that we would arrive by five o’clock.  We didn’t actually get to her house until seven.  In all, I think it took about 8 or 9 hours to get there!

On the way to Belgium, we stopped at Ramstein Air Base to gas up the car, buy a top up for my phone, and get some lunch.  Although I had heard about the Burger King fire at Ramstein, I had forgotten about it and was shocked to see the charred skeleton of the building.  The fire happened in mid April.  It must have been quite the inferno!  We spent a lot longer at Ramstein than we should have, although I will admit to being impressed by the facilities there.  It’s like a little America!  I hadn’t been there since our last Space A trip in 2014.  We had burgers from Johnny Rocket’s for lunch.  I think I can safely say I don’t need to have another one of those for awhile.

Our drive to Alveringem was mostly uneventful, though very long.  Just getting out of Germany seemingly takes forever.  We ran into the usual staus and had to stop a few times for potty breaks.  Like Germany, Belgium’s high speed freeways are apparently free (for now, anyway).  But the roads aren’t in the best condition in some areas.  I also noticed both on this trip and our last Belgian holiday that free rest areas aren’t as plentiful.  Lots of “rest areas” in Belgium are really just places where you can pull off on the side of the road.  If you have to pee, it seems you just do it outside.  We saw lots of men doing just that.  And if you go to a rest area, you’ll most likely have to pay for the privilege of peeing.  I actually don’t mind that, since it allows me to get rid of change and usually ensures that the toilets will be clean and stocked with toilet paper.

As we got closer to our destination, I noticed the aroma in the air.  It smelled of manure, then ripe cheese.  I said, “Ugh!  That really stinks!”

I looked over at Bill, who had a big smile on his face.

“You like that smell, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes!” Bill sighed.  He loves stinky cheese.  Maybe that’s why we’ve managed almost fifteen years together!  I am kidding, of course.  I don’t actually smell like stinky cheese… Do I?

The long trip was worth it…


Our pet friendly Belgian Labor Day Adventure… Part one

Several weeks ago, Bill told me he wanted me to find us a place to go for Labor Day.  The only stipulation was that it had to be dog friendly, since our regular dog kennel was fully booked.  Since we were taking the dogs, Bill said wherever we went should also be within a few hours’ drive.  There are several places somewhat near that we want to see, so I did what I usually do when we need to make a tough choice between travel destinations.  I got out the champagne bucket.

I probably put about six destinations in the bucket and had Bill draw one out.  He pulled out Rochefort, Belgium.  I started looking for dog friendly places to stay in Rochefort and ended up finding a whole lot of vacation homes.  Apparently, there are lots of people in that part of Belgium who rent out their homes to vacationers.  Bill and I had never rented a house before, since we don’t have kids and usually don’t bring our dogs with us.  The idea of renting a house for the two of us and our dogs seemed a bit extreme.  Now, having done it, I think we will rent houses more often!

We didn’t end up staying in Rochefort, by the way.  Bill had to go to Ethiopia for a conference, so that delayed my decision on where we should go.  A few of the places that looked appealing to me were snatched up before I could book.  One location that repeatedly popped up in my research was Durbuy, a town I had never heard of prior to our visit.  I read that it was quite a cute town and very tourist friendly.  I also found Chalet Montana, a great house in nearby Barvaux, which is just a few minutes from Durbuy.  The price was right; the place was pet friendly; so I made my booking on Booking.com.

Bill went off to Ethiopia and I waited all last week for him to get home on Thursday.  He told me that despite the long trip to and from Africa, he’d be alright to drive the six hours to Belgium.  To be honest, I kind of had my doubts about that, but I went ahead and reserved us for four nights.  I very quickly got an email in perfect English from the owners of the chalet, who sent some instructions.  One thing I didn’t have to worry about was payment; Chalet Montana is set up so that you pay Booking.com.  We only needed to bring 250 euros in cash for a deposit.  The owners also suggested that we bring certain things with us, like towels, matches for the barbecue, and Senseo pods for the coffee maker.  Because we are coffee snobs, Bill made plans to bring a French press, our coffee grinder, and some nice fresh Peet’s.

What the owners didn’t mention in their email was sheets for the bed.  The chalet had pillows and duvets, but no sheets.  Fortunately, I bought two extra large beach towels that were perfect for covering the mattress.  Next time, we will bring sheets as a matter of course.

On Thursday morning, Bill got back from his business trip.  Unfortunately, he was delayed in Frankfurt due to someone checking bags and not showing up on the aircraft.  Then, once he got back to Stuttgart, he stopped by his office and then got stuck in traffic.  By the time he got home, it was almost 2:00pm.  I was a bit perturbed and so was he, especially since he hadn’t been able to sleep on the plane.  He took a shower and quickly changed clothes while I loaded up the car.  Just as we were pulling out of our town, I asked him if he’d remembered to pack the coffee.  Naturally, he hadn’t…  so I said, “Well, I guess that’ll give us a chance to try those Senseo pods.”  More on that, later.

Once we got on the road, we were delayed a bit by traffic and road closures.  It was pretty stressful getting out of Stuttgart.  Our route took us by Ramstein Air Force Base right around the time people were getting off work, so we got stuck in that traffic, too.  And we stopped at a couple of rest stops where I saw some guys peeing in public.  I mention this only because there was an article about kids and public urination on The Local Germany.  I shared it on my Facebook page and it sparked a very long discussion that went in several different directions!

I was awestruck by the beauty of the German countryside, especially near Trier, a town we visited in 2012 on our very first Space A hop.  Every time we drive through that area, I think I want to take a trip there again.  But we were on a mission to visit Belgium.  I was really looking forward to it.  During our first tour in Germany, Bill and I visited Belgium a couple of times; indeed, our first visit was to Brussels over Labor Day weekend 2008.  The Belgians embrace excellent beer, amazing frites, raucous humor, and chocolate.  What’s not to like?

Zane was like this most of the way to Belgium.  He gets nervous in cars and needs reassurance from Bill.

We stopped for gas in Belgium and Bill made use of the self service pay option.


The countryside in eastern Belgium is beautiful.  I couldn’t resist taking photos from our speeding car…

Just after I took this photo, we passed through a small town where a topless potbellied man stood on the side on the road.  I had my camera poised for taking photos, but did not take one of him.  He must have thought I did, though, because he gave me a dirty look as we passed.

We were supposed to get to Chalet Montana by 8:00pm, but traffic conspired to make us late.  We got there at about 8:30pm instead, where we were met by a very nice guy who had our keys and told us he manages 20 properties in the Durbuy area.  He showed Bill around while I held on to Zane and Arran, who were tired of traveling and very excited by the property manager.  After a few minutes, I entered the chalet and had a look around…  More on that in the next post!


You know you’re close to vacation when…

you start dreaming about espadrilles…

I don’t even own a pair of espadrilles and would probably never think to buy them, yet they sure did show up in my dreams this morning.

I’m also within the window of reading weather forecasts in Italy with some accuracy.  Looks like the weather will be better in Venice a week from today than it is in North Carolina this morning.  I can’t believe it’s time for another trip.  I hope I can adapt to less frequent travels in the coming years.  Well, I guess I’ll have to adapt somehow… I just hope it’s not too difficult.  I really love traveling, especially in Europe.  I learn something new with every trip.

I’m also hoping that the cruise is lovely.  Most SeaDream cruises are excellent, of course, but you never know what kinds of people will be onboard.  Hopefully there won’t be a lot of obnoxious folks who take over or little kids who snorkel in the hot tub.  SeaDream is a very adult line, but some people feel it’s still appropriate to bring their kids, even though there’s nothing for their kids to do.  I would think most normal kids would be bored silly on a SeaDream cruise.

I’m glad we’re doing this trip in May.  It’s the shoulder season, so maybe the crowds won’t be too much, the weather won’t be too hot, and the kids will still be in school…

I also hope that the dogs do okay at the kennel and we don’t get any frantic emails about them.  And I hope the flights aren’t too annoying.  I dread the flights the most.

Yesterday, I told Bill that I was going to change my nightgown (I never did get dressed yesterday) and take a shower.  I then lamented about how lazy I am.  Sweet Bill looked at me and said, “Don’t worry.  It’s dark outside.  Besides, you need to rest because we’re about to go on vacation.”  One of my friends said she knew why I love him so much…  The fact that he spoils me rotten is just one of many excellent reasons.